Naomh Anna the beating heart of their Connemara community
By John Harrington
The spectacular South Connermara islands of Eanach Mheáin, Leitir Móir, Garmna and Leitir Mealláin are connected by a series of causeways that allow the R374 to snake its way over the Atlantic Ocean.
The people of this archipelago are unified by more than a road, though. The real beating heart of their community is Naomh Anna GAA club, Leitir Móir.
Its presence on the islands is writ large in both brick and bone.
Their huge sports and leisure facility, Spórtlann Naomh Anna, is one of the very best of its kind in the whole of the country.
They also recently completed work on a new 300-seater viewing stand, new dressing-rooms, hurling walls and handball alleys at their club grounds.
Then there’s the remarkable level of participation within the club.
Despite their rural catchment area having a relatively small population, they field three senior men’s teams, two senior women’s teams, and boys and girls teams at every age-group.
Considering the vibrant energy within the club, it’s no surprise that success has followed.
On the same day they won the Galway Intermediate Football Championship two weeks ago, they also won the Ladies Football Galway West Board Senior Championship.
A few weeks before that the club’s U-17s defeated Caltra in the Galway U-17 ‘C’ Football Final.
“The club is really well run and a huge part of the community,” Naomh Anna senior football team manager, Ciarán Óg Ó Flatharta, told GAA.ie.
“We have great facilities. A huge amount of work has gone into them, and we take great pride in them.
“It's like you say, the GAA club is at the heart of our community. You could tell that by the amount of support we had at the county final, it was unreal, I've never seen anything like it in my life, I don’t think we’d anyone left at home.
“I'd say ever school-kid was there. To be fair to the club, they've done a huge amount of work with the youth and that really is the big driving force behind the whole thing.
“They decided to put a big focus on underage development a few years ago and it has just pushed on and pushed on ever since.
“Even this year it's gone up another step. The amount of work that's being done with youth teams is just fantastic.”
You get a good sense of the sort of club Naomh Anna are from the fact that their underage teams, both boys and girls, are largely coached and managed by members of the mens and ladies senior teams.
Not content with simply doing their parish proud by wearing the club jersey, they take such pride in their community that they’re keen to give back to it by bringing through the next generation of players.
“There's tonnes of the lads involved with all the underage teams and it’s the same with the women, a lot of the senior women are also training the underage teams,” says Ó Flatharta.
“That sort of attitude at the heart of everything with the club.
“Our U-17s won the county championship this year and six of the senior team are training those fellas. Seán Andy Ó Ceallaigh was the manager and then a load of the other lads were all mentors.
“It's the same with the women. The minors, U-16s, U-14s, U-12s, u-10s, are all managed by senior players. The club executive are a great support as well behind everything and that helps an awful lot.”
You’ll get a flavour of just how passionate Naomh Anna club-members are about their football if you watch the video highlights of their Galway Intermediate Football Final win over Dunmore McHales.
The noise that greeted every Naomh Anna score was seismic, and the explosion of emotion that greeted the final whistle spoke volumes too.
“It was huge,” says Ó Flatharta. “We came home and there was a huge crowd at our pitch again afterwards, it was great. The buzz in the whole community since, even now, you can still sense it.
“It's huge for the community, especially after the year that we've had. Everyone missed football when it was gone for however long it was.
“The Final wasn't our best game, in fairness. But, look, it doesn't matter, to be honest. As someone said the night before the game, Finals are for winning, it doesn't matter how you do it. And that's exactly how it turned out.
“We have the skillset, the legs, and the heart and we always knew that. We were up against it a few times this year.
“We lost the second match in the Championship, we were well-beaten by Headford, so we had to win the last match against Micheál Breathnach by seven points or more to go through which we did.
“Then we just squeezed past Killererin, squeezed past the Aran Islands, and squeezed past Dunmore. Every match has come down to the wire.”
Ó Flatharta is expecting their next one, Saturday’s AIB Connacht Intermediate Quarter-Final against Leitrim champions, St Patrick’s Dromahair, to be another game in the same vein.
“We really need to push on now, we really do,” he says. “This is a huge game at the weekend and we're under no illusions about how tough it's going to be.
“This thing of people saying it's a Galway club and they're a Leitrim club so we should be winning, we don't buy into that for one second. We know these fellas, Dromahair, and they're a good team.
“You don't win a county championship by being a bad team, regardless of the county, so we know exactly what we're up against and it's going to be a huge test. It's going to be a very tough test.
“In 2009 we played Cloone from Leitrim and we only barely beat them. We probably didn't deserve to win it, but we did by a point in the end.
“So we're under no illusions, we know this is going to be a huge test on Saturday.”